The Slave‐Boy

Roslyn Weiss

in Virtue in the Cave

Published in print June 2001 | ISBN: 9780195140767
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199833849 | DOI:
 The Slave‐Boy

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In the slave‐boy demonstration, Socrates teaches the slave boy which line it is in an original square upon which a new square, double the size of the first, is constructed. The instruction is disguised as an elenchus in order to encourage Meno to continue with the elenctic examination into virtue with which he and Socrates had been occupied up to this point. The diagonal, which constitutes the answer to the geometrical question, is present in the diagram from the start but stimulates no “recollection” on the part of the slave‐boy. The solution to the geometry problem is incontestable (it is confirmed by counting) and so amounts to knowledge; in virtue the most one can hope for is to know “no less accurately than anyone.” Socrates is committed only to the moral value of the “doctrines” ‐recollection and the immortality of the soul – he has espoused; he has fought in word (myth) and deed (the slave‐boy demonstration) for the worth of moral inquiry.

Keywords: diagonal; geometry; Meno; moral inquiry; recollection; slave‐boy; slave‐boy demonstration; Socrates; virtue

Chapter.  25187 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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